My initial research into the relationship of word to image involved producing coloured calligraphy. The intention was to produce a kind of visual onomatopoeia in order to associate the word (signifier) to the thing it refers to (signified). For example making the character “beauty” (mei, 美) as beautiful as possible; beauty being central to the Chinese conception of art.
Each Different, Each the Same No.4 (2014) deals with the different relationship of individuals to society in China and the West – there being a much greater emphasis on individuality in Western culture. The character is 人 (ren – person) is arranged into a kind of colourful pop art design.
Six Signs (2011-12). As part of my research into the limits of language I made a series of word-images using illuminated exit signs. The work grew out of experiments with one-word poetry and what I called “resonant” images at the University of Ulster. The text is intended to function as a landscape painting; it reads (top to bottom, left to right): Tall grass moving in the wind / Clouds racing across blue sky / Hazy mountains / The sound of water in the distance / Gui flower scent floating on the breeze / Light shifting over green fields.
My interest in word-image became an interest in asemic writing; that is the writing of “abstract” words with no phonic component. Asemic Writing no.1 (2015) was produced by placing a sheet of 120 gsm drawing paper underneath rice paper while practicing seal script. The ink soaked through leaving a ghostly confused memory of the language.
Beauty Kills Me (2014). Seal script ambidextrous calligraphy; beauty is generally taken to be positive in China but I usually prefer to write darker sentences.
In Seal script one is able to elaborate characters to produce new variations. In Mei [Beauty] (2014) I convoluted the character to such an extreme that it is not clear whether the lines that comprise the character are black or white – present or absent. The work was again produced ambidextrously.
In Ya Ya Ya (2015) I further played with positive and negative marks in the construction of characters by indicating the character in outline and via the surrounding negative space.
Three Figures in Motion (2013) reflects an earlier interest in the paintings of Frances Bacon. The notion of time is introduced through the blurred movement which mitigates against the words functioning as abstract types, suggesting instead particular instances.
One of the major motivations for my early work is a dissatisfaction with post-modernity and post-structural theories of language. I was concerned with finding a way through language to “the-thing-itself” (in Edmund Husserl’s phrase). It seemed to me that language (signifiers) could be undone through shock, disgust, erotic response, or poetry. The later was the most interesting to me and the most relevant to my work. In this photographic-calligraphy series of works I brushed photographic developer onto exposed photographic paper to reveal the latent image. Through language the image is glimpsed and through the poetry of the image the sensation of the thing is realised. Themes like this are best expressed in Chinese as the written form already suggests something outside the symbolic.
I have also addressed my concern with the relationship of words to images by using photography to evoke calligraphy. The structure and movement of trees in Taiwan suggests both Chinese calligraphy and American abstract expressionism; the series was intended to be visually poetic.
In this series of ‘word landscapes’ images of mountains, rivers etc. have been replaced by their written Chinese characters. Namely: sun (r, 日), forest (lin, 林), person (ren, 人), river (chuan, 川), mountain (shan, 山) and meadow (miao, 苗). Again the work deals with the tension between words and images.
I have researched the possibility of a 21st Century landscape in many ways. In the drawing Fragment of a Poem the ridges and folds in the paper suggest mountains and valleys. It is composed of multiple perspectives like a Chinese landscape and not from one fixed point as is usual in the West.